The struggle to secure a space for female artists in British music is something that is still ongoing, a battle that often feels as though it takes place in increments.
People take vastly different approaches. Some like to steadily pursue their goals, a slow-burning dedication that gently eases past the barriers in their place.
GIRLI wants to take a sledgehammer to the lot of it. An irrepressible presence onstage, her songwriting tells it like it is – this is the voice of a young woman in British society, and this is what she observes.
But she's still respectful of those who won that space for her. Melanie C has been battling convention for two decades, and she does so with remarkable grace and modesty.
Clash sat the two artists down to discuss mutual inspirations, and the conversation quickly moved into social media, mental health, and the enduring need for girl power.
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Melanie C: So I had a playback last night…
GIRLI: What is that like? Cos I always find it really weird!
It was just in a venue, everyone was drinking, and chatting away and I heard the presenter go: 'WOOOO!'
It was really bizarre. I think it was quite a nice thing to do. It's like when you go out and you do a new song and no fucker knows it, and it's just like: "….." (Laughs)
Yeah! Oh my God. I think like a year ago or something I was meeting labels and stuff and having to like play a song to a boardroom of people… I just get massive anxiety now about playing my music.
I. Hate. It. It's so embarrassing isn't it?!
I would much rather go: "here's the tunes, I'll see you later."
Yeah! "Bye, see you in five."
It's horrible! And people feel like they have to say stuff. And I know what I'm like – I need to listen to things a few times. Occasionally you go: "I fucking love it…"
You ease into it. Oh, this leads nicely onto my first question actually…
When I, as a young woman or whatever, play my music to people (particularly men), you sort of get patronised a lot. It's twenty years since you started in the industry and I feel like it may be less obvious but there’s still an undercurrent of sexism… and it's still a male-dominated industry after all.
Totally. You know I was thinking about this the other day. It's like when I look at my band: they're all guys. When I look at everyone I've collaborated with on this record – songwriters, producers – they're all guys. In my career I've worked with hundreds of songwriters and three of them have been women. Yeah, it's crazy. It's crazy! And of course they're out there, but it's really funny hearing you say that because, of course, with the Spice Girls girl power was an accident. And it happened because we were a girl band. Take That – I think Robbie had left around the time we started – but Take That had been the last big thing. And boy bands traditionally had sold all the records. Girl bands do OK.
But it's like a novelty thing right?
Yeah. Nothing like boy bands. So we were hearing quite a lot of this and we were going to Smash Hits and they were like "we won't put girls on the cover" because it doesn't sell magazines. And we were like: "Fuck this!" And that's where girl power came from. Because we just thought: hang on a minute, there's such an injustice here. We're a girl band, we're doing this for all the girls – and that's what gave us our drive. And we went on to outsell all of them.
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I guess as the Spice Girls you were this group of five women, did you ever find that in the climate at the time that that was intimidating to people and people didn't want to work with you?
D'you know what I, especially when I was younger, I wouldn't say boo to a goose… I was quite shy. But the five of us together we just had each other's back and we were just like this force to be reckoned with. Together they gave us that confidence to just be a little bit more in your face. I think we probably scared people!
I guess what's interesting meeting you as well is that you're so nice! D'you think that having that positive attitude has been a big part of the fact you've had such a long career? Cos you meet so many twats and people who are so egotistical and meeting you – you've had so much success but you're so grounded – d'you think that that's a big part of your success as well?
I was just brought up to treat people how you want to be treated. And I really pride myself on treating everybody like an equal. So what I was in the biggest girl band in the world ever?! But no, it doesn't make me any better than anybody else… it doesn't make me any different. And that's just how I live my life, how I teach my daughter, how I want her to be, and it stands you in really good stead because I've got a really good reputation. And not only that, OK it's good in a professional sense, but in a human sense: I wanna be nice! I feel good being nice to people. Oh we all get tired and we all get frustrated but I couldn't be a diva because I'd feel so guilty!
It's interesting because you talk about your daughter – you've obviously had this big musical career – is she interested in that kind of stuff? Personally, when I wanted to go into music… my parents are actors so they perform and stuff and they were really against me doing anything creative because I think they were like scared about it. Would you encourage her to do that or would you be wary?
Most people that I've spoken to who do work in performing – whether it be theatre, music, whatever – you would rather your kid didn't go into it. And I think it's because it's really hard to succeed. So many people want to do it, it's so difficult to get a break and then if you do become successful it's really hard to maintain it. And it's not just a job is it? It's your life. It's your passion. It's who you are. And I think that makes you really vulnerable. And if you are not able to do the thing that you love then you know how hard it is; psychologically and emotionally. So I think that's probably the reason why.
I read a really cool interview with you about fame. Obviously social media is just a part of being famous now. How do you think your time in the Spice Girls would have been different with social media?
Oh I'm sooo glad that it didn't arrive in my life until I was a bit older, because I think I would have made a lot of mistakes.
Yeah because I think I was a bit more hot-headed then!
You would have been the type of person to be like "Fuck this person, fuck that person!"
Yeah. TWITTER WARS! But yeah now I'm like: "leave it!" And I just think your privacy is so invaded! You go down the pub having a drink with your mates and the next thing you know someone's tweeted it and there's forty fans outside. I think that's really hard.
The way that news travels so much quicker as well.
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So I just came off my first ever tour, which was only like ten days, and I finished it and I was like, "I am fucking knackered".
You must have toured for like six month, year tours – how was that in terms of the gruelling work schedule? It must have been hard, but did you have support or was it kind of like: right, deal with it, you're on your own.
It was really hard. I think obviously we were too young to really consider it. I think that young people are much more savvy these days, but back then we were just in the eye of the storm. We were all really ambitious and we all wanted to succeed and we had so much energy, but it did get to the point where we were living on adrenaline, which you can only do for so. It's really, really bad for you, it's really dangerous. So yeah, it was really hard. And we'd bitch and moan and drag ourselves out of bed. I think probably more as a solo artist, just because of the physicality of singing full songs. When I did my first solo tour I was like, "Fuck me I thought I was fit!" It's a killer. And I think what a lot of people don't appreciate is, as a singer, the discipline it takes.
It's crazy isn't it? Obviously, you've talked about suffering from depression in the past and I'm just really interested because personally I've suffered from the same kind of things and I guess nowadays there is more support for musicians. Though people don't really realise that it affects so many. But when you were having difficulties with your label and your solo career and stuff, how was that? Because I can't imagine there was that much support back then.
Yeah. When I think back, I think: "Poor me".
And I think… bloody hell no wonder I got so sick. We were in this extreme situation and I didn't actually have any external pressure. All the pressure on me I put on myself. Which I think often is the worst because you can't escape it. It's just there. And it was a really, really difficult time. You know I need to ask you because you're talking about support for artists and stuff now, because nothing can prepare you, can it?
You have this ambition and this dream and this fantasy of what you want. The reality of it is something quite different. Completely. What was really difficult at that time I found was when I was at my worst I had a record out… and so you literally are picking yourself up off the floor and going into an interview and sitting there saying: "Hi!" Mental health problems are so widespread. And it is being talked about more but there's still a lot of um, what's the word?
Yes! Stigma about it. And people have often said that creative people maybe have more of a pre-disposition to suffer with these kinds of things.
I'm really interested in terms of your representation in the media and how that's kind of changed. I mean the media, especially the UK press, is such a dick to women, first of all. And I'm just interested as someone who has decided to stay in the spotlight throughout your life and as you've become a mother and stuff like that – how have you felt that you've been targeted by newspapers in terms of your body image or your life decisions? Has it become harder as you've got older and had family?
I tell you what, the hardest phase for me was when I was suffering with depression and I'd put on a lot of weight. I was addressing my eating problems, and they just were so horrible about me. They called me 'Sumo Spice', that was one of the headlines. I mean how nice is that? For someone who's admitted being depressed and having an eating disorder. Which I thought was disgusting. And of course I was very vulnerable at that time so that was very hurtful.
It's funny, you know, because the first thing I saw when I walked in today was: "Geri's pregnant!" and she's 44. So what? Front page of the Mirror: "Geri announces she's pregnant at the age of 44". Fuck off! Why is that important? So what? How annoying is that? She's pregnant – that's all you need to know.
Well it's funny because when David Bowie had a child at however old he was everyone was like: "yay, he's a dad!" It’s just that double standard. It's crazy.
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Catch GIRLI at a special Girls Against show tomorrow night (November 24th) at the Camden Assembly, London.
Melanie C's new album 'Version Of Me' is out now – the following tours dates have been confirmed:
4 Glasgow O2 ABC
5 Liverpool O2 Academy 1
6 Manchester O2 Ritz
8 London O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
9 Birmingham O2 Institute 1